Guest Post and Excerpt of
Louisa and the Crystal Gazer
by Anna MacLean
Have you ever attended a séance? Tales of the supernatural and other-worldly events have always fascinated me, so when it came time to write the third Louisa May Alcott mystery, Louisa and the Crystal Gazer, I knew I wanted to include a séance.
Imagine the very intelligent, and very curious, young Louisa May Alcott sitting down at a séance table with characters such as P.T. Barnum, busily looking for new acts for his ‘museum,’ and others who, while fictional, represent some of the people Louisa might actually have encountered: impoverished upper-class ladies, still single and on their way to become ‘old maids,’ retired army majors with tales of India and the opium wars, and her own best friend, Sylvia, newly longing to speak with a long-dead father.
Louisa, at this time, is still in her early twenties, still very attached to home and family – and still facing tremendous financial problems. Her father, the famous philosopher Bronson Alcott, doesn’t bring in much income, and how much can Louisa earn stitching shirts and teaching geography to the neighborhood children?
Louisa has already solved two previous murders, in Lousia and the Missing Heiress, and Louisa and the Country Bachelor, so when a murder victim appears soon after attending her first séance, she’s ready, and more than willing to dive back into detective work.
What many readers don’t know about the beloved author of Little Women is that she was very active and very involved in her world. Her parents were abolitionists involved with the underground railroad, helping slaves make their way to Canada and Louisa kept fascinating diaries and journals about her own real adventures, including being a nurse in the Civil War. She was no shrinking violet, hiding in the parlor! That was the Louisa I worked with, when creating this murder mystery about spiritualists and heiress and lost love.
An excerpt from Louisa and The Crystal Gazer
“I miss Father,” Sylvia signed one morning as we took our walk along the harbor. It was a misty cold day, and the harbor waves were tipped with frosty white.
“Unfortunately, your father passed away when you were a child,” I answered gently. “You barely knew that long-enduring man, so how do you now claim to miss him?”…
“My point exactly,” my companion responded…“I feel the need for a masculine presence in my life, and would like to converse with my father. I will, with the assistance of Mrs. Agatha Percy. Please come with me to one of her sittings!”
I groaned and jammed my hands deeper into my pocket, despite the stares of several passersby; a lady did not put her hands in her pockets. She did if they were cold, I thought. Ship rigging creaked in the wind and bells chimed the start of a new watch, and I pondered Sylvia’s statement of that questionable group of individuals known as ‘spiritists,’ or mediums…
“I can think of better ways to spend time and money than sitting in the dark and watching parlor tricks. I would much rather, for instance, attend one of Signor Massimo’s musical evening.” The signor, a famous pianist, was touring the United States from his home in Rome and had decided to winter in Boston. He was giving a series of performances – performances I could not afford, since the tickets were as much as three dollars apiece, even when they were available.
“Mother tried to get tickets and could not. She was furious,” Sylvia said. I could understand; women with Mrs. Shattuck’s family name and wealth were not accustomed to hearing no.
“Look, there is ice in the harbor,” I said, putting my hand over my eyes to shield them from the glare.
“I will have your answer,” Sylvia persisted.
I introduced several new topics of conversation, hoping to distract Sylvia from her mission – Jenny Lind, the Wild West, a newly published travel book about France that was flying off the shelves – but each topic she cleverly rejoined and detoured back to Mrs. Percy…
“Don’t you see?” Sylvia sighed in exasperation, pulling at my hand to prevent me from taking another step. “The spirits themselves wish you to visit her. They put those very suggestions in your mind!”
“Then they should put a plot or two in my mind,” I said, remembering the still-blank sheet of paper before which I had sat that morning at my desk. Being between stories was an unpleasant state for me, when no plot or story threaded the random thoughts of every imagination.
“I am unconvinced that ‘fun’ is the correct word to describe an hour of sitting in the dark, pretending to speak with the dead,” I said.
“Spirits,” corrected Sylvia. “The dead don’t like to be called dead. Such a harsh word.”
Neither of us was yet aware of exactly how harsh that séance would become.
Jeanne Mackin is the author of several novels: The Sweet By and By (St. Martin’s Press), Dreams of Empire (Kensington Books), The Queen’s War (St. Martin’s Press), and The Frenchwoman (St. Martin’s Press). She has published short fiction and creative nonfiction in several journals and periodicals including American Letters and Commentary and SNReview. She is also the author of the Cornell Book of Herbs and Edible Flowers (Cornell University publications) and co-editor of The Norton Book of Love (W.W. Norton), and wrote art columns for newspapers as well as feature articles for several arts magazines. She was the recipient of a creative writing fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society and her journalism has won awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, in Washington, D.C. She teaches creative writing at Goddard College in Vermont, has taught or conducted workshops in Pennsylvania, Hawaii and New York and has traveled extensively in Europe. She lives with her husband, Steve Poleskie, in upstate New York.
Book Link: http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9781101506141,00.html?Louisa_and_the_Missing_Heiress_Anna_Maclean